Thursday, September 2, 2010

In short: Zombie Brigade (1986)

aka Zombie Commandos

aka Night Crawlers

The city fathers of the charming little town of Lizard Gulley somewhere far out in the Australian bush thinks they have hit the big time. The major Japanese corporation of Mister Kinoshita (Adam A. Wong) is planning to build a ginormous tokusatsu theme park on their property, promising prosperity for all. Kinoshita and his assistant, the Chinese-Japanese Yoshie (Khym Lam) arrive in town to close the deal, so Lizard Gulley's mayor (Geoffrey Gibbs) decides that it would be a good idea to blow up the Vietnam War memorial that's standing right in the middle of what shall become RoboMan Park.

The dubious morals of that action aside, it turns out to be a rather unhealthy decision too. The soldiers buried at the memorial were infected with a vampire virus, and are now very much awake, pissed and hungry.

Fortunately, Jimmy (John Moore), a city-educated Aboriginal who is still only able to survive by doing menial tasks, turns out to be quite competent in vampire invasion situations. His uncle is also the local Magical Negro, and conjures up another bunch of dead white guys to clear out the vampires.

Zombie Brigade has quite a lot going against it, even if you ignore the utter absence of zombies its title promises. Its plot is stupid, the pacing slow as molasses, the acting's no good at all and what goes for action is just too limp to be even called limp anymore.

On the other hand, the film's main heroes are an educated Aboriginal and a Chinese-Japanese executive, who are much preferable to the white middle class obsession of a lot of horror and are even used to show the audience the horrors of casual racism. It's not something many horror films even try to do, and - at least for a film of its strained resources  - Zombie Brigade is even rather subtle about it. It's just too bad that the film's honest sounding anti-racist message is undermined by Kinoshita being the typical 80s cliché Japanese capitalist, dying as a vampire with a samurai sword in hand.

But you can't say the film's not trying to be diverse.

The movie takes a turn towards the utterly weird for its final half hour or so, with one of the more bizarre resolutions to a mass vampire attack I've ever seen that comes even more unexpected than Johnny's uncle conjuring up of more dead guys to help out. At that point, the movie's two directors even manage to get some moody and atmospheric shots that nearly make up for the very shoddy vampire make-up.

I'm quite enamoured with the film's specificity. It looks like it was shot in a real Australian small town, and I wouldn't be at all surprised if at least most of the minor actors were recruited from the population there, so everything feels as real as things in low budget horror movies can feel. It's a very Australian feeling film, and though I'm sure that its Australia is in part a fantasy and a lie, I appreciate how energetically the film makes use of being local instead of trying to pretend to be all metropolitan, which would of course be damned to fail anyway.

So, yeah, this one's got something.


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